Do Malaysian newspapers not publish clarification?

by Haris Ibrahim

The personal reply by Jacqueline Ann Surin on Feb 13 to our Hartal MSM letter of Feb 12 to the editor of theSun is reproduced below. Assistant editor Jac has since left the free daily newspaper to return to business paper The Edge.

Her reply contains reference to the original author of the e-mail which precipitated her column. At the request of this author, we are replacing all mention of him in Jac’s letter with ‘X’ to preserve his anonymity.

The scanned press clippings on this page of theSun’s Before & After editorial line-up were sourced from Howsy’s blog posting dated Jan 30.

Hartal MSM responds:

Ms Surin replies she has no reservations standing by every word she wrote on Jan 31. We reiterate that some of the words she wrote misrepresented the facts.

  1. X said in his original e-mail (Jan 28) that he heard Surin “will stop writing for The Sun as well”. Isn’t this true?
  2. Surin regarded the information that “the editorial team had been changed with immediate effect” as “highly inaccurate”. On Jan 31, when her column saw print, the names of theSun Editor-in-chief Ho Kay Tat and his deputy Dorothy Teoh were already missing from the editorial line-up, not to mention changes in designation for Chong Cheng Hai, formerly editor, and political editor Zainon Ahmad. It’s clear that Surin was in error. The source cited by X was evidently accurate.
  3. In her explanation to us below dated Feb 12, Surin repeatedly uses as her ‘defence’ X’s apology that “Unfortunately, my posting had been misinformed”, etc, which was made on Jan 29. By the time her column appeared Jan 31, Surin would or should have known that X had not been wholly misinformed, because on Jan 29 itself the NST reported under the heading ‘New head for theSun daily’ that “announcements were made to theSun’s senior executives and staff at two separate meetings yesterday (Jan 28) by Ho” on the changes to the top editorial line-up. Images below, obtained from Howsy’s blog posting on 30th January ’08, highlight these changes:

Even in the unlikelihood that between Jan 28 and 31 Surin had been unaware of the changes, she would surely have known of them by the time she replied to Hartal MSM on Feb 12.

4. Surin wrote “The forwarded e-mail ended with a rallying cry to boycott the mainstream press.” We note that nowhere in the two postings which she quoted, in full, of X did he rally his readers to boycott MSM. She had failed to exercise due care or to clarify the issue when her column indirectly associated his ‘name’ with the Boycott “rallying cry”.

5. In her reply below, she states “I hope that you and the people in your committee can appreciate the difference” between voluntarily deciding to end a column and being told to stop writing it. We had stated “Surin’s own column has been discontinued because of her ‘return’ to The Edge”, period. Any further meaning she chooses to read into this is her own.

6. Lastly, we note that we had written a letter to the editor of theSun to point out factual inaccuracies in her column. We hold that a newspaper is duty bound to publish a correction when it has erred in facts. TheSun failed in this duty.

Hartal MSM, The People’s Parliament

Feb 18, 2008


Dear Haris,

Thank you for your e-mail and for keeping me accountable for my writing. I heartily agree that my caution to readers not to believe everything they read should apply to me as well, since I occupy a public space as a writer.

Allow me, if you will, to share [the message put up in an e-group open forum by X] full posting with you here. I think it is illuminating and demonstrates that even he agreed that his earlier posting was erroneous and highly inaccurate.

“Dear friends,
I’m writing to correct a posting I had made yesterday on our APA mail list regarding the recent changes at theSun newspaper. Since then, a number of people have forwarded the information from said posting to other people and groups. Unfortunately, my posting had been misinformed, as was explained to me by a dear friend from theSun.

Contrary to what we were informed, Vincent Tan has NOT changed the editorial team with immediate effect. Instead, there is a new MD (who will be managing the business of the paper), while some editorial staff who were originally from the Edge (such as Jacqueline Ann Surin) will return to that paper. The rest of the team will remain the same.

As regards Terence and Nades, the information relayed to me was incorrect. They have not been told to stop writing their columns. Whether the tone/content of their columns will change in time is left to be seen (although the new management has said it wants continuity in theSun and has not told anyone to stop doing what they’re doing [yet]).

Jacqueline Ann Surin has decided to return to the Edge because of personal reasons, and has not been requested to stop writing. Her final contribution to theSun will appear this Thursday, 31 Jan.

I apologize for posting uncorroborated information, but I stand by my reason for doing so: I was merely reacting to the lack of clear information from theSun itself regarding its internal changes (I am one of their columnists, after all), and feared that in the wake of recent events in Malaysian society, this new move may be perceived as a step back for freedom of the press.

For many of us, theSun is one of the last few papers that hold a credible journalistic vantage point because of its apparent distance from certain political factions in the status quo – with this new change in ownership, that exact vantage point will need to be reassessed. Only time will tell.

Best regards, X”

(Posted on APA forum on Tue Jan 29, 2008 5:38 pm)

You will notice that X’s posting has the following words or phrases:
1.      I’m writing to correct a posting…
2.      Unfortunately, my posting had been misinformed…
3.      Contrary to what we were informed…
4.      … the information relayed to me was incorrect.
5.      I apologize for posting uncorroborated information…

X posted this clarification after I spoke with him about his earlier posting on Mon, Jan 28, 2008 5:33 pm (see below) to point out that his information was inaccurate:

“Bad news guys,

I just heard from a friend that we’ve just lost The Sun – in the sense that Vincent Tan has stepped in to fully take over the gig. He’s changed the editorial team with immediate effect. Terence Nades (of Citizen Nades) will no longer have his column. Also, Jacqueline Anne Surin, on of the beacons of journalistic writing (for which she has received international recognition) will stop writing for The Sun as well.

As a friend quipped… “The Sun has set today…”

With sadness and anger,
– It’s all gone wrong now.”

At the point of X’s earlier posting on Jan 28, the information he posted was highly inaccurate. X had the grace to admit the inaccuracies of this posting in my phone call with him and to take measures to correct the mistake he made through his second posting.

Your e-mail also suggests that my moving back to The Edge is proof of my column’s spin-doctoring. You also suggest that my column was “discontinued”. It wasn’t. I voluntarily decided to end it just as I voluntarily chose to return to The Edge after the corporate restructuring.

I wasn’t told to stop writing for or to leave theSun as you would imagine. And I hope that you and the people in your committee can appreciate the difference.

I respect the views your outfit may have about the state of the Malaysian press. In fact I agree with you that the mainstream press is constantly under threat because of the particular political context we operate under. I also respect the initiative you’ve launched to boycott the mainstream press as a mark of democratic dissent.

But any cause that fuels itself with inaccurate information is problematic. In this case, suffice to say that even X agreed with me that he was responsible for writing and posting inaccurate information.

I have no reservations standing by every word I wrote in my Jan 31 column.

Yours sincerely,
Jacqueline Ann Surin

First published in The People’s Parliament on February 19, 2008

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